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The Turnip Chronicles, or What I Learned this Thanksgiving

We spent the afternoon getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner at my sister Mary's house. I had volunteered to bring a side dish. I picked turnip because I like it and it's easy to make.

Turnip may a cinch to prepare, but it turned out to be a bit confusing to buy. The turnip I grew up eating on Thanksgiving was pungent-tasting and orange in color. Raw, I remembered it being big lumpy balls with a mottled purple color. Earlier this week while shopping for turnip at our local food coop, I found out that what I thought of as turnip was actually rutabaga. The vegetables labeled "Turnip" were sleek purple-and-white roots.

I bought both. I prepared the rutabagas the way my mother told me to--peeled, sliced, and boiled until soft; then mashed with a bit of salt and pepper. I threw in some olive oil and two slices of cooked-and-crumbled bacon. It was delicious, and just what I expected.

The turnips, I prepared the same way, with one variation. Instead of bacon, I added some sautéed garlic and fresh ginger a the end. I wish I could tell you how it tasted, but it got lost in the shuffle.

When we arrived at Mary's house, I dropped the turnip and the rutabaga (along with a bottle of wine, a wonderful 2004 Tempranillo I promise to share the name of as soon as I return to my Brooklyn home--we love it so much we bought a case of it) in her kitchen, and I went into the livingroom to snack on cheese and crackers and catch up with my siblings. Later, the constant churn of dishes in and out of her kitchen didn't include the turnip. I didn't notice its absence, my eyes having been blinded by brussels sprouts, spicy creamed spinach, stuffing, turkey, and the rutabaga. Not until I was back in the kitchen after dessert (an astonishing array: pumpkin, homemade apple pie, courtesy of Santa Maria, homemade apple cake, spice cake, and cookies) did I realize that we had forgotten to eat the turnip. I'll have to get a report from my sister about how it tastes, as I'm sure she'll eat it over the next day or so.

The day was not turnip-free for me, though. When I was peeling the vegetables this morning, I was quite taken by the fresh, light, and clean scent of the turnip. I pressed the vegetable peeler into the side of the root and drew off a nearly translucent slice. I popped it in my mouth. It had a crisp and refreshing flavor, like a mild radish. I sliced off another one, and ate that too. Then yet another. I really liked it. I enjoyed it so much, that I reserved one turnip to experiment with at lunch time.

We had a light lunch today, logically, given the Thanksgiving meal that we were about to eat. I made a green salad with a bit of poached chicken on top. I shaved a slew of raw turnip slices into my salad and found them most agreeable.

If I had more time, I would consider baking those turnip slices in a bit of salt and oil to see if they might crisp up nicely. Or try stir-frying them to get a similar effect. Maybe next Thanksgiving I'll try something like that.

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